Hyper-casual has been a lucrative genre for game developers so far. The reason behind this is fairly simple. It offers a very high income potential for a relatively low cost. Small studios with a handful of employees can make a fortune with a hit game. But major players in the industry are switching or preparing to switch from the genre. So is the hyper-casual genre dead? Is that the reason significant developers steer away from it?
Alex Shea, the Head of Publishing at Voodoo, made a speech titled “Multiplying your game’s margins with Voodoo’s casual publishing team” at PGC London 2023. One of the takeaways from his speech came out as hyper-casual is dead. This is a bold claim, especially considering that it came from a member of a company’s top management widely known for its products in the genre.
On the other hand, another major player in the genre, Kwalee, has announced that it will expand its portfolio to the hybrid-casual genre. Kwalee announced this through its official website with an article titled “Hyper Casual Isn’t Dead – It’s Just Overworked” a rather meaningful title considering the company’s strategic decisions for the future.
Why do developers like the hyper-casual genre?
Hyper-casual games usually depend on a single gameplay dynamic. This alone brings so many advantages to both developers and players. First and foremost, they are generally very easy to understand. This makes introducing them to people with no or minimal gaming experience easier.
This simple game dynamic requires, even mandates, a very simple user interface. A simple user interface is easy to design, apply, and understand and has minimum room for design mistakes that will deteriorate the user experience.
Developers can even mass-produce hyper-casual games. By simple tweaks like changing the themes or modifying the graphics, they can make multiple games from the same basic idea or gameplay dynamic.
These features of the hyper-casual games bring advantages regarding marketing too. First of all, the target audience is simply everyone. Regardless of their age, gender, profession, education level, or any other demographic, everyone plays or may play a hyper-casual game at some point in their life. It’s like whistling and watching the clouds to make time go faster while waiting for a friend. It’s something that everyone can do. People can play hyper-casual games on a train or bus during the commune, play them in an airport while waiting for boarding, or play them to chill after work lying on the couch.
In addition to all these, there is the fact that the world has been through a pandemic that locked almost everyone in their homes. Nobody expected such a drastic change in their lives, and they were unprepared for it. Suddenly, billions of people were isolated and alone in their homes with no means to pass the time or enjoy themselves. Hyper-casual games came to the rescue, and this resulted in unexpected growth in the market. Which also made it very lucrative for so many developers.
Another advantage of hyper-casual games is their business model. Most hyper-casual games are partially or entirely free to play. Some depend on ads to generate revenue, while others lean on in-app purchases. Some have slightly different methods or business models, but ultimately, most of them are free from the players’ perspective. This makes them even more accessible. The players have nothing to risk if they don’t like a game. They can download it, play it, and then delete it if they don’t like it. Then try another game until they find the one they love.
Why are developers shifting from the hyper-casual genre?
If the hyper-casual genre is so advantageous for developers and the players and, above all, so lucrative, why are the developers shifting from the hyper-casual genre? Well, what made hyper-casual genre thrive may also be its downfall. Its advantages and the circumstances coinciding with its maturation period may have created a feedback loop that transformed them into drawbacks.
Hyper-casual genre’s accessibility, combined with a period of pandemic and lockdowns, extended its market and audience rapidly. This rapid expansion attracted many developers of all sizes. During the expansion period, this wasn’t a problem. There was room and revenue for everyone. But as the players in the industry multiplied, it created fiercer competition. As the competition got tougher, some publishers resorted to more drastic measures to generate revenue. Ads that show up during the gameplay, are too frequent, cannot be closed, show up unexpectedly, and ads that are designed to cause or lead to unintended clicks are some of them. This prompted major application stores to take measures to safeguard the user experience, challenging all the industry’s stakeholders. At some point, these rules, like Google’s updated ad policy, were even predicted would hurt the genre. But even these measures didn’t kill the hyper-casual genre.
The time of the change that so many hyper-casual developers tend to is also as meaningful as its nature. The global mobile game industry revenue has declined for the first time in the first quarter of 2022. This may be the wake-up call for the industry, reminding them that the expansion will not last forever and it’s time to seek alternatives.
Considering that simplicity is the crucial element in hyper-casual games, which manifests itself as games with a single gameplay dynamic, there are a limited number of dynamics that can be applied to a mobile game. This urges the players to seek more complex games after they have been introduced to the genre and have tried multiple games. Therefore hybrid-casual and even mid-core games are good choices for developers who intend to shift from hyper-casual games.
So is hyper-casual dead or not?
This question can be interpreted in multiple ways. Will all developers leave the genre or wither away if they persist in holding on to it? Probably no. Has it seen its prime and started to decline from now on? Probably yes.
Trends, ideas, concepts, and genres never completely die. If someone asks did jazz or rock music die? The answer would probably be yes, but this doesn’t mean nobody ever listens to those genres anymore. Even new artists and bands emerge every once in a while. But they are not mainstream. They are not at their prime.
To give a more business or finance-related example, internet companies were emerging everywhere at the start of the internet age. They were being founded without even a solid business strategy or revenue model. But the industry was rapidly expanding, and daring investors and investees were abundant because the rewards were high. At least, the rumor was it they were. Then the internet “craze” ended. It became a natural part of our lives that most of us even took for granted. Most of those companies went bankrupt, but a considerable number of them survived and thrived.
Although newly emerging industries or genres usually follow this pattern, it even happens in ancient sectors like construction or real estate. Almost every developed country has a story of a real estate or construction industry bubble story in its financial history. This doesn’t mean these companies or activities cease to exist in the aftermath. They just decrease to a more reasonable, sustainable level.
The hyper-casual genre of the mobile game industry may be going through such a normalization phase. There will always be people, developers, and publishers working on the genre, along with players yearning for the next hyper-casual game to play. But through the normalization period, companies depending primarily on hyper-casual genre should find ways to survive it. Some companies will do it more like a soft transition like Kwalee prefers, while others may prefer more radical attitudes like Voodoo.